Anyone remember the old Sting album "Nothing Like The Sun?" Remember your Shakespeare? More on this later.
Years and years ago, I was walking in the French Quarter with my wife and a guy who was at the time a very good friend. You won't get any back story on that one, it's not important. We were way at the river end of Canal Street, late at night, watching the cars flow back and forth, listening to the music drifting out of the Quarter. It was one of those quiet moments in a night full of activity, and I was smoking a big fine cigar, enjoying the cool of the night after the pounding humidity of the day.
While we stood around a park bench watching the street, an old black man living on the street approached me and, proffering a cigarette, asked me for a light. My Southern Gentleman reacted without me even having to think about it; I dug in my pocket, hauled out my lighter, and lit the smoke for him while he held it tremblingly in his lips.
He drew the first puff in, let it out, and in that surprisingly powerful voice that old skinny black men all seem to have hidden in them, he belted out a line that Shakespeare would have been at home penning: "Truly you shall be called the friend to animals, and a defender of the weak." I smiled at him and said "Bless you for that" and he returned to his friend and his cardboard house across the intersection. I haven't been Christian in a very long time, but if you recall your Sting, his response to drunks and crazy people is to deliver Shakespeare lines to them in a strong voice. Mine is to say something vaguely religious, and since that seems to be a universal thing amongst the less well off, it seems to work.
Remember earlier? The title of this post is mentioned in Sting's album "Nothing Like The Sun," in the liner notes, where he mentions his tactic with drunks and where he mentions the line "My mistress eyes/are nothing like the sun," from, I believe, Twelth Night. I could be wrong.
My wife smiled at me, and my National Guard bud made some jokes at my expense, but it really touched me. I know it's foolish, but I still think about it. It's true, you see. I think of myself that way. I rescue kittens from walls and carry crickets and spiders out of the office and into the front parking lot. I carry preying mantises out of the gravel and put them in the field. I'm bad about that. Or good, depending on your point of view.
This morning, arriving at work, I carefully removed a beautiful green and tan speckled tree frog from his perch on our front door and carried him all the way across the front porch and out into the tall grass that rings our building. The worst part of it is that I talked to him or her the entire time.
I just can't help it. My father was a gentle man, and loved animals of all sort and kind, and he took a great pleasure in teaching my brother and I about the thousands and thousands of other species that share our small slice of space. I have always enjoyed wildlife, in all it's permutations.
The funniest part of the old man's pronouncement is that the next day at an aviary at, I think, the zoo, a mockingbird flew down from the rafters and right at my bud. He screamed, if you'll excuse the expression, like a little girl and began retreating down the steps squealing. The bird, confused, flapped up and right over to me, landing on my Kangol cap. I knew he was coming, so I simply held still and let him decide where he wanted to be, which was on my head. People began instantly to point, smile, and take pictures. I grinned and reached up gently to offer him a finger to perch on, because I really didn't want bird poo on my fairly new hat. I felt him hop onto the proffered perch and I carried him down to eye level. He calmly regarded me while I returned the gaze, and we spent the next five or so minutes calmly chatting.
Okay, so I talked and he listened and chirped occasionally, but you get the picture.
The bird finally got tired of all the fraternising and flew back to his tree branches, but the finest part of the moment was not the looks and smiles from the other patrons of the aviary, or the knowing smile on my wife's face. It was the look on my buddy's face, the one that was compounded of part confusion, part jealousy, part surprise and a good dollop of disbelief. Me, I just took it in stride. He grinned a confused grin and said "You really ARE friend to the animals. I guess we need to find someone weak for you to defend."
I thought I already had.